By Adam Lovinus
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By Nate Jackson
By Mike Seeley
The refurbished splendor of the Fox Theater Pomona gives OC music-lovers yet another reason not to go to LA For a concert
Opening the Fox Theater Pomona was an audacious, ostentatious, expensive proposition—both times.
Its original grand opening on April 24, 1931, took place in the midst of the Great Depression and cost a then-exorbitant $300,000. And funnily—or terrifyingly—enough, the theater’s recent grand reopening happened just two months ago, during our current Great Recession. The restoration took a year and a half and cost $10 million.
Was it worth it? Brothers and Pomona locals Ed and Jerry Tessier, who along with business partner and concert promoter Perry Tollett bought and revived the place, certainly think so. And the theater’s opulence speaks for itself.
“Unquestionably, it’s one of the Southland’s best Art Deco buildings—a phenomenal space,” Ed Tessier declares with a palpable sense of pride. “You can mention it in the same breath as you talk about the Wiltern.”
While the nearby 800-person-capacity Glass House has long been a refuge for Orange County music-lovers who refuse to deal with the traffic and $10 parking fees of LA, the 2,000-capacity showpiece at Third and Garey will be an even-bigger draw—and a hell of a lot more accessible than that place at Wilshire and Western.
In an area defined by venues that are either black boxes in nondescript strip malls or the House of Blues, the Fox Theater Pomona is a standout, all-purpose venue with character.
“It’s just an over-the-top, theatrical, architectural statement,” says Tessier.
With its murals, staircase and banisters bursting with pretty, metallic Art Deco swirls and curlicues, the Fox was always a lavish venue for the city—which, in 1931, was just a small agricultural blob of an LA suburb. However, the city did have unique demographics important to studios as test markets; the venue hosted everything from concerts and lectures to dances to radio shows hosted by Bob Hope. Movie stars came to premieres and test screenings; people gawked. It was a success.
But the theater eventually lost its sheen; blame World War II and the establishment of the American mall, among other factors. The Fox has since undergone a few evolutionary stages: community theater, Spanish-language-film theater, church, rave dance-party host—the last of which pretty much obliterated what was left of the old theater. The 1999 deaths of two rave attendees at separate events didn’t help.
Though the Downtown Pomona area was designated as the Arts Colony in 1994, there was always something missing from the neighborhood of dwindling art galleries, vintage shops and restaurants.
“The Arts Colony has become a very successful destination. It has evolved organically, and it’s not dominated by corporate culture—a very authentic mom-’n’-pop, emerging-artist kind of environment that’s bursting at the seams,” Tessier explains. “There’s big shows, art walks, the Glass House—yet it all kind of had a limit to it. Things downtown could never get much bigger than a 900- or 1,000-person event, and having the Fox now doing what it’s doing is a great way for the neighborhood to achieve what it’s capable of.”
His family’s real-estate-development firm, Arteco Partners, has been the primary developer of the Pomona Arts Colony project since the early ’90s, working on 20 properties, including nightclubs, lots and offices, accounting for two-thirds of all the restored buildings in the area.
“We knew no matter how many of these buildings we did, the downtown wouldn’t really be considered truly revitalized until the Fox was rehabbed and operating properly,” the 41-year-old Tessier says. “It’s simply the iconic property of the downtown area.”
He hesitates for a half-second.
“However, we hoped somebody else would come along and do it. In fact, we joked for years that you couldn’t give us the building!” he says with a laugh.
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Although Arteco Partners specializes in historic-property rehabilitation, the sheer size of the Fox Theater Pomona project made the brothers uneasy. The original space stood at about 13,000 square feet—now, in its fully rehabilitated state, it’s nearly double that.
“We knew all along it was a monster of a building—very, very complicated, very tricky,” Tessier admits.
They gave up waiting in 2007. The brothers made a proposal to purchase and rehab the historic theater, and the city of Pomona approved the grand project.
Old black-and-white photographs and the personal memories of Pomona residents helped the restoration project along. Forgotten details such as wall colors (20 to 30 shades of pink, puce and lavender—rare for the usual masculine color palette of West Coast Art Deco), what the pattern on the carpet was like (maroon with flowers, bronze flourishes and teal lining) and how many edges the grand chandeliers in the welcoming lobby had (eight) were all revealed by scrutinizing historic records and oral-history research.
“It felt like anything we had done over the years led up to this one,” Tessier says. “For something like colors, we had people in there for a month, in every nook and cranny of the building, scraping down all the layers of the paint from over the years, taking samples of each one. They literally burnt the paint chips, studied them chemically and found out what chemical colors were available in the market now so they could reproduce them exactly.”